Dust My Broom
|"I Believe I'll Dust My Broom"|
|Single by Robert Johnson|
|B-side||"Dead Shrimp Blues"|
|Format||10" 78 rpm record|
|Recorded||Gunter Hotel, San Antonio, Texas, Monday, November 23, 1936|
|Label||Vocalion (No. 03475)|
"Dust My Broom" is a blues song originally recorded as "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" by American blues artist Robert Johnson in 1936. It is a solo performance in the Delta blues-style with Johnson's vocal accompanied by his acoustic guitar. As with many of Johnson's songs, it is based on earlier blues songs. As "Dust My Broom", it achieved its popularity through recordings by Elmore James and has become a blues standard, with numerous renditions by a variety of musicians.
Elements of "Dust My Broom" have been traced back to several earlier blues songs. It has been suggested that Robert Johnson may have begun developing his version as early as 1933. The Sparks Brothers' "I Believe I'll Make A Change" (Victor 2359, recorded February 25, 1932) and Jack Kelly's "Believe I'll Go Back Home" (Melotone M12812, January 8, 1933) both use a similar melody and lyrics. Some verses are also found in Carl Rafferty's "Mr. Carl's Blues" (Bluebird BB B5429, December 1933):
I do believe, I do believe I'll dust my broom (2×)
And after I dust my broom, anyone may have my room ...
I'm goin' to call up in China, just to see if my baby's over there (2×)
I'll always believe, my babe's in the world somewhere ...
Kokomo Arnold, whose "Old Original Kokomo Blues" served as the basis for Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago", recorded two songs with similar lines — "Sagefield Woman Blues" (Decca 7044, September 1934):
I believe, I believe I'll dust my broom (2×)
So some of your lowdown rounders, lord you can have my room ...
and "Sissy Man Blues" (Decca 7050, January 1935):
I believe, I believe I'll go back home (2×)
Lord acknowledge to my good gal, mama, Lord, that I have done you wrong
Now I'm going to ring up China yeah man, see can I find my good gal over there (2×)
Says the Good Book tells me, that I got a good gal in the world somewhere ...
Lyrics and interpretation
Robert Johnson's "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" combines lyrics, also identified as "floating verses", from the earlier songs and adds two new verses of his own. The result is "a more cohesive lyric than either of the Arnold pieces [and] concentrates on the theme of traveling, and being away from the girl he loves". Attempts have been made to read a hoodoo significance into the phrase "dust my broom". However, bluesman Big Joe Williams, who knew Robert Johnson and believed in folk magic, explained it as "leaving for good ... I'm putting you down, I won't be back no more":
I'm gon' get up in the morning, I believe I'll dust my broom (2×)
Girlfriend, the black man you been lovin', girlfriend, can get my room ...
I don't want no woman, wants every down town man she meet (2×)
She's a no good doney, they shouldn't 'low her on the street
While Johnson is disillusioned with one woman, he also yearns for another:
I'm gon' write a letter, telephone every town I know (2×)
If I can't find her in West Helena, she must be in East Munroe I know ...
I'm 'on' call up Chiney, see is my good gal over there (2×)
If I can't find her on Philippine's island, she must be in Ethiopia somewhere
The last verse shows Johnson's unusual use of geographical references, as in his refrain "Back to the land of California, to my sweet home Chicago" for "Sweet Home Chicago", which was the next song he recorded.
Recording and composition
"I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" was recorded by Robert Johnson during his first session on November 23, 1936. The recording took place in a makeshift studio in Room 414 at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas and was produced by Art Satherley and Don Law. It was the second song that Johnson recorded and followed "Kind Hearted Woman Blues". As with most of his recordings, it appears that a second take of the song was recorded and assigned a reference number. However, this take, along with several others, "remain[s] unfound, if ever issued; destroyed after being recorded (if ever); or otherwise unknown to collectors".
Johnson recorded the song as an upbeat boogie shuffle. As with several other Johnson songs and typical of Delta blues from the era, it does not adhere to a strict twelve-bar blues structure, but rather Johnson "expands and contracts the time, changing chords as inspiration hits". It is performed in the key of E at a moderate tempo of 100–105 beat per minute. Unlike some of the earlier songs that influenced Johnson, "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" does not feature a bottleneck or slide guitar. Instead, Johnson employs a fingerstyle guitar in which melodic lines are played against a driving bass boogie figure, creating an effect similar to the then popular combination of piano and guitar accompaniment. Author Elijah Wald has identified the use of the boogie bass line, adapted for guitar from the piano boogie style, as a major innovation by Johnson, although it had been used in an earlier recording by Johnny Temple, titled "Lead Pencil Blues (It Just Won't Write)" (Vocalion 03068, May 14, 1935). To facilitate his fingerpicking style, Johnson also used an open tuning. This has been described as a modified open-A tuning with the fifth string retuned from A to B, giving a new tuning of E-B-E-A-C♯-E or a standard open E tuning of E-B-E-G♯-B-E.
The song also features Johnson's use of a repeating guitar figure, described as "fast high-note triplets". This riff came to define the song, although Johnson also used it in several other of his songs, including a slide version for "Ramblin' on My Mind".
"I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" was released in 1937 by Vocalion Records (03475), ARC (7–02–81), and Conqueror Records (8871). It was issued on the then standard 10-inch 78 rpm record, backed with Johnson's "Dead Shrimp Blues". The single was Johnson's third record of eleven released during his lifetime.
As one of three Johnson songs to become early blues standards, it has been questioned why "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom" was not included on the first reissue of Johnson's songs, the King of the Delta Blues Singers album released by Columbia in 1961. Authors Pearson and McCulloch commented that its place on the album "would have connected Johnson to the rightful inheritors of his musical ideas — big-city African American artists whose high-powered, electrically amplified blues remained solidly in touch with Johnson's musical legacy". In 1970, the song was included on Columbia's second Johnson compilation, King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol. II and in 1990, on the The Complete Recordings box set.
Elmore James renditions
|"Dust My Broom (I Believe My Time Ain't Long)"|
|Single by Elmore James|
|B-side||"Catfish Blues" (performed by Bobo Thomas)|
|Format||10" 78rpm record|
|Recorded||Ivan Scott's Radio Service Studio, Jackson, Mississippi, August 5, 1951|
|Label||Trumpet (No. 146)|
According to some accounts, "Dust My Broom" was one of the earliest songs Elmore James performed regularly while he was still living in the Mississippi Delta in the late 1930s. It has been suggested that James may have encountered Robert Johnson during this time, when he learned how to play the song. James often performed with Aleck Rice Miller, better known as Sonny Boy Williamson II as a duo. However, his music career was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After his discharge, he again joined up with Williamson, who regularly performed on radio. In January 1951, Williamson was offered the opportunity to record some songs for Trumpet Records, where by one account he was accompanied by James. In August, the duo auditioned "Dust My Broom" for Trumpet owner Lillian McMurry, who signed James to a recording contract.
Meanwhile, two versions of "Dust My Broom" were recorded — Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup (RCA Victor 50-0074, 1949) and Robert Lockwood (J.O.B., March 22, 1951, but not released until later). Neither rendition appeared in the record charts.
Recording and composition
On August 5, 1951 after a Sonny Boy Williamson II recording session, Elmore James recorded "Dust My Broom" at Ivan Scott's Radio Service Studio in Jackson, Mississippi. James, who provided the vocals and amplified slide guitar, was accompanied by Williamson on harmonica, Leonard Ware on bass, and Frock O'Dell on drums. The recording studio had not made the transition to tape technology, so the group was recorded direct-to-disc using one microphone. It was the only song recorded by James; Trumpet's McMurray felt that his other songs were not suitable for recording. However, Williamson and James' cousin, Homesick James, later claimed that McMurry secretly taped the performance and that Elmore was so upset that he was unable to record a B-side. McMurray denied this and presented a check made out to and endorsed by James the day before the session to show his knowledge of and agreement to participate in the recording.
To record his song, Elmore James used Robert Johnson's first four verses and concluded with one similar to that found in Arthur Crudup's 1949 recording:
I believe, I believe my time ain't long (2×)
I've got to leave my baby, and break up my happy home
James' song also followed Johnson's melody, key, and tempo, but adhered more closely to the chord changes of a typical twelve-bar blues. However, he "transformed what had been a brisk country blues into a rocking, heavily amplified shuffle". Besides the backing musicians, the most notable addition to the song is James' overdriven slide guitar, which plays the repeating triplet figure and adds a twelve-bar solo after the fifth verse. Compared to Robert Johnson guitar work, James "makes them more insistent, firing out a machine-gun triplet beat that would become a defining sound of the early rockers". His use of vibrato with the slide has been described as "his distinctive jangling guitar style". In James' hands, "this may be the most famous blues riff of all time, [n]ext to the four-note intro of Bo Diddley's 'I'm a Man'".
Releases and charts
Elmore James never recorded any more of his own material for Trumpet, although he later appeared as a sideman. McMurry, who was unaware of prior recordings of the song, arranged to copyright "Dust My Broom" in James' name and subsequently issued the single, with a rendition of "Catfish Blues" by Bobo Thomas as the B-side. Both songs listed the performer as "Elmo James", although James does not perform with Thomas. Regional record charts show that "Dust My Broom" gradually gained popularity in different parts of the U.S. It eventually entered Billboard magazine's national Top R&B singles chart April 5, 1952 and peaked at number nine. In 1955, after the release of an updated version by another record label, McMurray leased the recording to Ace Records, who re-released it (Ace 508). Jewel Records also re-released the original Trumpet recording as a single in 1966 (Jewel 764).
Since it was originally released by Trumpet, the original recording does not appear on many of James' early compilation albums by Crown/Kent. The versions of "Dust My Broom" that appear on many Fire/Fury/Enjoy/Sphere/Sue compilations were recorded during his first session in Chicago in 1959 and last session in New York in late 1962 or early 1963. These later renditions do not include harmonica, but have piano accompaniment.
Derivatives and "Dust My Blues"
The success of the single by the relatively small Trumpet Records led other record companies to pursue James in the hope of landing his follow-up singles. Joe Bihari, who owned Los Angeles-based Modern Records with his brothers, and his talent scout Ike Turner were one of the first. A later session in Chicago produced "I Believe", a "Dust My Broom" knockoff, that became a number nine charting single and the first issued on the new Modern subsidiary Meteor Records in 1953. Being able to score two hits within a year with essentially the same song by the same artist prompted record companies to exploit it as much as possible. Thus, many re-workings of "Dust My Broom" with small variations were recorded by James for different record labels during his career.
In 1955, Flair Records, another Bihari label, issued a reworking of the song titled "Dust My Blues" (Flair 1074). Recorded in New Orleans at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studios, James was backed by veteran New Orleans musicians, including bassist Frank Fields, drummer Earl Palmer, and pianist Edward Frank. Called "a powerful reincarnation of the old broom theme" and "a fine hard driving song", "Dust My Blues" is perhaps the definitive re-recording of the James' original, with an updated accompaniment. It appeared in some regional charts when the single was reissued in the 1960s. When "Dust My Blues" was released in the UK (Sue Records WI-335), it inspired "a slide guitar sound that was a typical feature of the British blues of the late sixties".
Elmore James' "Dust My Broom" was inducted into the Blues Foundation Blues Hall of Fame in the "Classic of Blues Recording — Singles or Album Tracks" category in 1983, who noted that it received more votes than any other record in the first year of balloting for singles. His song was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Other recordings by notable artists
Numerous musicians have recorded "Dust My Broom" (sometimes as "Dust My Blues") over the years, usually using a slide guitar and following Elmore James' arrangement. To show their variety, some of these include:
- Komara 2007, p. 47.
- Wardlow 1998, p. 168.
- Oliver 1989, p. 189.
- Wald 2004, p. 135.
- Wald 2004, p. 136.
- Pearson, McCulloch 2008, p. 68.
- Wald 2004, p. 120.
- LaVere 1990, p. 46.
- Wald 2004, p. 138.
- Charters 1973, p. 29.
- Researcher Edward Komara suggests Johnson and Temple jointly developed the style. Komara 2007, pp. 44–45.
- Komara calls this "Aadd9" or Johnson's "secret tuning". Komara 2007, pp. 34, 46, 47.
- Koda, Cub. "Dust My Broom". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved October 29, 2013.
- Wald 2004, p. 139.
- Wald 2004, p. 188.
- "Dust My Broom" became available on a bootleg album of Johnson recordings that supplemented the Columbia album.
- Pearson 2008, p.28
- Wardlow 1998, pp. 160–162.
- Topping 1993, p. 10.
- Topping 1993, p. 11.
- Whitburn 1988, p. 485.
- Topping 1993, p. 29.
- Wardlow 1998, p. 167.
- Palmer 1981, p. 214.
- Gioia 2008, p. 313.
- Gillett 1972, p. 161.
- Even though his first name was usually spelled "Elmore", many referred to him using the shortened "Elmo".
- Whitburn 1988, p. 216.
- Morris, Haig 1992, pp. 12–13.
- Gioia 2008, p. 314.
- Topping 1993, pp. 15.
- Frank Fields and Earl Palmer were members of Dave Bartholomew's band who had played on many of the hits of the era, including those by Fats Domino and Lloyd Price.
- O'Neal, Jim (1983). "Classic of Blues Recording — Singles or Album Tracks". Blues Hall of Fame — 1983 Inductees. The Blues Foundation. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- "Grammy Hall of Fame Awards". Grammy Awards. The Recording Academy. 1998. Retrieved October 28, 2013.
- A more complete list may be found at Allmusic. "Song search results for 'Dust My Broom'". Allmusic. Rovi Corp. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
- Samuel, Charters (1973). Robert Johnson. Oak Publications. ISBN 0-8256-0059-6.
- Gillett, Charlie (1972). The Sound of the City. Dell Publishing Co.
- Gioia, Ted (2008). Delta Blues. W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-33750-1.
- Komara, Edward (2007). The Road to Robert Johnson: The Genesis and Evolution of Blues in the Delta From the Late 1800s Through 1938. Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-0-634-00907-5.
- LaVere, Stephen (1990). The Complete Recordings (Media notes). Robert Johnson. Columbia Records. p. 46. C2K 46222.
- Morris, Chris; Haig, Diana (1992). Elmore James: King of the Slide Guitar (Media notes). Elmore James. Capricorn Records. 9 42006-2.
- Oliver, Paul (1989). Screening the Blues: Aspects of the Blues Tradition. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80344-4.
- Palmer, Robert (1981). Deep Blues. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-006223-8.
- Pearson, Barry Lee; McCulloch, Bill (2008). Robert Johnson: Lost and Found. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07528-5.
- Topping, Ray (1993). Elmore James: The Classic Early Recordings 1951–1956 (Media notes). Elmore James. Virgin Records America/Flair. 7243 8 39632 2 5.
- Wald, Elijah (2004). Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. Amistad. ISBN 978-0-06-052427-2.
- Wardlow, Gayle Dean (1998). Chasin' that Devil Music: Searching for the Blues. Miller Freeman Books. ISBN 0-87930-552-5.
- Whitburn, Joel (1988). Top R&B Singles 1942–1988. Record Research, Inc. ISBN 0-89820-068-7.